Something about Arkansas brings out the best in Florida each time the Gators hit the court.
Needing to hold serve at home after a loss over the weekend at Ole Miss, the Gators rode hot shooting from junior guards KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson and just enough scrappiness on defense to beat the Razorbacks 88-73 Wednesday before an announced 9,929 at the O’Connell Center.
The Gators (13-5, 5-1 SEC) find themselves back alone in first place in the SEC following Auburn’s 76-71 loss to rival Alabama on Wednesday night. But there’s plenty of basketball left to be played. Florida will next travel to face No. 18 Kentucky at Rupp Arena, a place where the Gators have won just three times in the last 19 years.
Florida posted its highest-scoring output since beating Gonzaga 111-105 on Nov. 24 in the semifinals of the PK80 Tournament in Portland, Ore.
“You ask about the big game against Kentucky, to me, this was a big one,” Florida coach Mike White said. “It was a big one. It was the next SEC game. Arkansas is really good, coming off a loss. We’re still a work in progress, of course, especially defensively.”
Allen scored a season-high 28 points in the win, breaking out of a 6-for-23 slump from 3-point range by going 8 of 12 from the floor and 6 of 7 from beyond the arc. Hudson added 21 points and a team-high nine rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench.
Behind 20 points from Allen in the first half, the Gators jumped to a 48-33 halftime lead. Florida maintained the lead throughout the second half. Jaylen Barford, who scored a team-high 28 points for the Razorbacks, cut UF’s lead to 69-59 on a jumper with 7:32 left. Twice, Arkansas had a chance to cut UF’s lead to single digits, but Florida was able to get a pair of stops on a Kevarrius Hayes blocked shot and an inside miss by Arkansas freshman center Daniel Gafford.
From there, the Gators were able to put the game away with a 10-0 run, sparked by back-to-back 3-pointers from Hudson and Allen. An inside layup from Hayes put Florida up 79-59 with 5:09 left.
“That was kind of the emphasis coming out of one of the timeouts, the team timeouts,” Hudson said. “We were just trying to figure out a way to get three stops in a row and that’s what we did and then we hit a couple of daggers.”
Said White: “I was saying three but I was hoping for one, just to settle in a little bit. Arkansas helped us a little bit by missing a couple of chippies. We struggled to find stops. Arkansas is terrific offensively and as a program they are very resilient, they are going to keep coming.”
Florida brought the energy early behind Allen, who made his first five shot attempts, which included three from 3-point range. The Gators shot 55.6 percent from the field in the first half and 58.3 percent from 3-point range despite losing starting point guard Chris Chiozza for a stretch in the first half. Chiozza took an elbow to his temple while battling for a rebound and was tested for a concussion in the locker room, but was able to return to the game.
“We were just playing freely,” said Hudson, who scored 15 points in the first half. “This week in practice, we were just competing. We just competed hard. People really were aggressive and I think that helped with everybody’s confidence and everything coming into today’s game. We had been really going at it the last couple of days in practice, so we were trying to use that and bring it into the game.”
Arkansas (12-6, 2-4 SEC) suffered its eighth straight loss to Florida and 13th straight loss to the Gators at the O’Connell Center, a streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 1995.
“First and foremost, we didn’t get the job done defensively,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson came in and shot lights out and the rest is history. Florida did what they are supposed to do and that’s hold serve at home.”
FREE THROWS: Senior guard Egor Koulechov added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Gators, while Chiozza had seven points, nine assists and three steals. Chiozza passed Kenyan Weaks to move into a tie for ninth on UF’s all-time steals list with 164. Justin Hamilton also posted 164 steals in his UF career. … Five-star 2018 power forward recruit Emmitt Williams is planning to visit Florida the weekend of Jan. 26-28, when the Gators host Baylor in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge. … Sophomore center Gorjok Gak sat out the game and remains in concussion protocol. With Gak out, redshirt freshman forward Dontay Bassett saw more time off the bench. Bassett had 0 points, an assists and four fouls in seven minutes.
|FLORIDA 88, ARKANSAS 73|
Thomas 1-2 1-2 4, Gafford 6-12 2-5 14, Barford 10-15 3-4 28, Beard 1-6 0-0 2, Macon 6-15 0-0 13, Thompson 1-1 0-0 2, Cook 0-2 0-2 0, Bailey 0-1 0-0 0, Hall 2-6 0-2 4, Jones 2-6 0-0 6. Totals 29-66 6-15 73.
Stone 2-6 3-5 7, Hayes 3-4 1-2 7, Chiozza 2-7 2-2 7, Koulechov 4-10 2-2 12, Allen 8-12 6-6 28, Bassett 0-1 0-0 0, Okauru 2-5 0-0 4, Ballard 1-2 0-0 2, Hudson 6-11 5-5 21. Totals 28-58 19-22 88.
Halftime_Florida 48-33. 3-Point Goals_Arkansas 9-19 (Barford 5-6, Jones 2-5, Thomas 1-1, Macon 1-5, Beard 0-1, Hall 0-1), Florida 13-25 (Allen 6-7, Hudson 4-7, Koulechov 2-6, Chiozza 1-2, Okauru 0-1, Ballard 0-1, Stone 0-1). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Arkansas 29 (Gafford 10), Florida 37 (Hudson 9). Assists_Arkansas 10 (Macon 5), Florida 14 (Chiozza 9). Total Fouls_Arkansas 19, Florida 16.